Former Springdale coach eyes surprise return to field
Admittedly bored and void of a working relationship with the game he coached for 50 years, Chuck Wagner said he is ready to come out of retirement and return to football.
The groundwork has been laid for Wagner, 78, to return as a volunteer assistant at Riverview, where he began his coaching career as an assistant in 1958.
“You don't do something for 50 years and just walk away and forget about it,” Wagner said. “I feel I can still fulfill a coaching role, and it will be good for my whole mental outlook.”
Wagner, who retired from Springdale in November 2011, also played football and graduated from then-Oakmont High before a post-merger stint at Riverview, and later stops at Fox Chapel and Springdale.
Wagner hasn't been able to play much golf, his other longtime hobby, so he's had plenty of time to think about a return to the sidelines.
“I've only been out of (football) for a year, but I miss the hell out of it,” Wagner said. “I still feel good. (Riverview head coach) Todd (Massack) and I sat down and went over things and shook on it. Obviously, I understand this has to go through the proper channels.”
Massack has sent a written request to the athletic department to add Wagner to his coaching staff. The request will be passed to the Superintendent and school board for approval.
“As soon as he retired, I told him, if you get bored, the door's always open,” Massack said. “I planted the seed back then, not really thinking he'd say yes. It wasn't just a courtesy thing. I meant it.”
Wagner would serve in an advisory, or “consultant” role, as Massack described.
Perhaps Wagner's most influential person, the late Elmer Gross, gave Wagner his first coaching position at Oakmont.
Wagner replaced Gross as head coach two years later.
“(Gross) saved me from being in jail,” Wagner said with a laugh. “I was a pretty wild kid. I know he'll be looking down from heaven and be very pleased.”
Gross was the grandfather of Massack, who later played for Wagner at Riverview.
Wagner's 270 wins rank him fourth all-time in the WPIAL. He spent 19 seasons at Springdale and led the Dynamos to a WPIAL Class A title in 2003.
He led the Dynamos to an Alle-Kiski record 10 straight WPIAL playoff appearances, a streak that has continued since he left.
Wagner said he did not consider asking to return to Springdale, for fear he might be a distraction among his replacement, Dave Leasure, and his staff.
Wagner said he attended a few high school games last season and the feeling of sitting in the bleachers couldn't compare with that of pacing the sidelines.
“I want to come in and help wherever I can,” Wagner said. “Todd knows he can go down the line, and he knows my beliefs. I want to work in the school and help get kids out for football. There's been a drop in numbers here and we need to get that fixed.
“I feel I can help oversee the program.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.